There are many well-known reasons to visit Tokyo. But along with all the temples, the sushi and the sumo, this city is also a byword for wacky, weird and awkward things to do. So I made my way to the other side of the world to explore the crazy side of this mega-city.
101 seconds in Tokyo
When it comes to absurd things to do in Tokyo, Akihabara is one of my favourite areas. The district is also called "Electric City": the streets are lit up with the bright and shiny signs of countless electro shops. A variety of huge gaming centres are also located here. It’s definitely worth a look, to see how Japanese people spend their free time playing enormous loud arcade games. Nothing special in itself, maybe; but next to the slot and entertainment machines, you’ll find some special photo boxes. Naoki, a local whom I met due a common friend from my earlier journeys, showed me those machines. They work like a normal photo booth, but the difference is that after the photos have been taken you are able to edit them, add phrases and have a blast re-creating yourself in Japanese cartoon style. The pictures looked so strange and funny, and Naoki and I had a good laugh about it. The whole experience is called "purikura".
Of course, anime or manga is a huge thing in Tokyo, too. On literally every building in Akihabara you’ll find posters, commercials and advertisements with Japanese cartoon characters. But you can experience it all another way, too, in what are known as Maid Cafés. Besides the waitresses, who are dressed as maids, and the background music, which seems to be the soundtrack of a 1995 video game, the service is also unique: if you want to be served, you will have to play childish games with the maids. You’ll need to clap, sing a song and form hearts with your hands to receive your drink or food. Strange! But as even Japanese businessmen were dining in the café and enjoying the maids’ service, it seemed a normal thing to do.
A bit less childish, but also really playful, is a visit to a so-called Animal Café. In the Asakusa district you can choose between cafés with rabbits, owls or cats. Basically they are normal places, with the additional feature that animals walk around freely waiting to get petted. So if you’re visiting the city and suddenly feel a massive urge to cuddle an owl, no worries: Tokyo has a solution!
On the trail of the wacky and the weird here, there’s no getting around the food. Whether it’s the “triangle kimbap” out of a vending machine or the chicken-noodle-soup-flavoured ice cream, Tokyo always seems to find ways to embrace the odd. For ice cream you should check out the Ikebukuro area and the Sunshine City complex. And on the way there, be sure to get a hot coffee in a can out of a vending machine.
Another thing which brought quite a smile to my face was the little restaurants in the Shibuya district. There you "buy" your meal at an automat. You choose a dish and press a button. You will receive a ticket, which you hand over to the cook inside the restaurant. If you don’t know Japanese, it’s a bit of a lottery what you order. I ended up with a spicy noodle meal, which was actually pretty tasty. In fact, I never came across a dish which I didn’t enjoy. Except the eel-flavoured ice cream, perhaps: I had to follow that with some wasabi ice cream to extinguish the taste.
Last but not least, I wanted to sample Traditional Tokyo. So I decided to stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese guesthouse. There’s one just next to the temple in Asakusa, and it pampers you the Japanese way. You can wear a kimono and sleep on a futon on the floor, as in the old Japanese days. To get away from your European morning rituals, you can also start your day there in the tub and treat yourself to miso soup and grilled fish for breakfast. It will all set you up nicely for another Tokyo day.
Tokyo is a synonym for crazy and funny. So be sure to embrace the unique and lovely vibe of this mega-city and enjoy it to the full!